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Old Apr 15, 2003, 04:10 AM   #1
Rellevart
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Default Literary Criticism

Something I read on another board prompted me to start this topic. The question is: What's the proper balance between criticism and encouragement when someone asks for feedback on their fan fic? For you more experienced writers who see yourselves as mentors, how can you help the young writers without slapping them down and totally making them feel like their material is lousy (even if it is)? For you younger writers, where is the point when criticism is merely discouraging and not helpful at all?

As an aspiring writer myself, though not of fan fic, this question really interests me.

If you want to relate a personal experience, please do so, but please keep names and specifics out of it in case your overly harsh critic or your sensitive new author is also a poster here. [img]images/icons/smile.gif[/img]
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Old Apr 15, 2003, 04:52 AM   #2
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Default Re: Literary Criticism

The most useful critique sessions I've had have been at science fiction conventions. A small group of writers (six max) will exchange drafts beforehand and read them over. At the convention, the writers take turns sharing their impressions of the strong and weak points of the story. The other writers don't just say what they think the weaknesses are; they also give suggestions for fixing them. I feel this is very important, since the writer might not know otherwise how to fix the problem. Even if he/she doesn't follow the suggestion 100%, sometimes thinking about the suggestion can help him/her come up with another idea. These sessions are also moderated by a more experienced author who will also add comments at the end. It's good to get several perspectives on a story, and I've made some friends by going to these workshops. I'm thinking of doing another one this November, depending on where I am with some short stories I'm working on.

Anyway, hope this didn't go off track, Rell. Basically, my main point is that writers should offer suggestions for improvement, not just criticism.
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Old Apr 15, 2003, 08:31 AM   #3
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Default Re: Literary Criticism

Rell, I'm gonna send you an email...keep on the lookout! I sent a critique letter to someone this morning, coincidentally, and I'll tell you all about it, but I didn't want to just post something here -- too long!

[img]images/icons/smile.gif[/img]

[size="1"][ Apr 15, 2003, 09:39 AM: Message Edited By: HMVNipper ][/size]
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Old Apr 15, 2003, 09:07 AM   #4
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Default Re: Literary Criticism

Quote:
Originally Posted By HMVNipper:
Rell, I'm gonna send you an email...
<font size="2" face="Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif">Received and printed out to read on the ride home tonight. Thanks. [img]images/icons/smile.gif[/img]
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Old Apr 15, 2003, 09:27 AM   #5
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Default Re: Literary Criticism

I think the way the critique is worded is key when it comes to evaluating someone's creative writing. Papers for school are a different story, but when it comes down to something that a person has poured their life-blood into, any criticism at all might hurt them. (I compare critiquing people's writing to the way I do conferences with my student's parents. Even with the children who are plain-out AWFUL, you can't flat-out say to the parent "Your child is a flaming moron." It has to be worded the right way.)

I usually try to tell the person what's GOOD about their story first, even if it's one of those stories where you want to blow up your computer monitor so you never have to read it again--there has to be SOMETHING positive about it, like "The topic is a good one" or "You really characterized George well," etc. Then *gently* tell them what's wrong with their work; I usually throw in something like "You might want to try..." on whatever the issue is (grammar, perspective, etc.) I've sort of been trained to do it this way--I worked in the university Writing Center tutoring people on their research papers/essays for 3 years as an undergrad.

Any criticism I've ever received about my writings I've been GRATEFUL for--if someone picked out a glaring error on something, I'd want to know about it!! Younger writers need to just keep in mind that NO piece of writing is ever perfect, and if you trust the person who's reading your work, they're telling you what to fix for your own good. It can only help you become a better writer. I wouldn't be publishing a book right now if I hadn't received honest feedback from a few dozen people who read my work.
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Old Apr 15, 2003, 10:06 AM   #6
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Default Re: Literary Criticism

Quote:
Originally Posted By Rellevart:
</font><blockquote><font size="1" face="Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif">Quote:</font><hr /><font size="2" face="Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif">Originally Posted By HMVNipper:
Rell, I'm gonna send you an email...
<font size="2" face="Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif">Received and printed out to read on the ride home tonight. Thanks. [img]images/icons/smile.gif[/img] </font><hr /></blockquote><font size="2" face="Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif">Coolness, babe! Hope it is helpful to you!
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Old Apr 15, 2003, 08:34 PM   #7
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Default Re: Literary Criticism

Quote:
Originally Posted By beatlegirl9977:
I think the way the critique is worded is key when it comes to evaluating someone's creative writing. Papers for school are a different story, but when it comes down to something that a person has poured their life-blood into, any criticism at all might hurt them. (I compare critiquing people's writing to the way I do conferences with my student's parents. Even with the children who are plain-out AWFUL, you can't flat-out say to the parent "Your child is a flaming moron." It has to be worded the right way.)

I usually try to tell the person what's GOOD about their story first, even if it's one of those stories where you want to blow up your computer monitor so you never have to read it again--there has to be SOMETHING positive about it, like "The topic is a good one" or "You really characterized George well," etc. Then *gently* tell them what's wrong with their work; I usually throw in something like "You might want to try..." on whatever the issue is (grammar, perspective, etc.)
<font size="2" face="Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif">I completely agree, for both sides.
The wording definately makes a difference, I've had feedback both ways...they might have the same message, but one can make you better, and one can discourage you from writing altogether.
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Old Apr 17, 2003, 10:30 PM   #8
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Default Re: Literary Criticism

Well, I'm no writer, but I am a critic! [img]graemlins/wink1.gif[/img]

I definitely agree with beatlegirl9977 in that criticism should be handled somewhat delicately, especially with young or new writers. I know if I had written something as a teen, and I was really proud of it, only to have it completely ripped apart, I'd be totally crushed (even if the critic was absolutely right)! Wording is everything.

I also have different thoughts on what should be said, depending on exactly what element of the story is being criticized. For me, the 2 things that really bug me most are grammatical/spelling errors and glaring historical errors. I won't even bother to read a story where the author doesn't bother to use correct punctuation and capitilization (and it's amazing how many people don't know that you're supposed to start a new paragraph every time a different person speaks!! ARGH!!) Sorry, major pet peeve. [img]graemlins/teeth1.gif[/img] I mean, the least the writer could do is run the story through spellcheck/grammarcheck first! I know every story's going to have a few mistakes, but when I see stories that are just full of them, it just seems like the author doesn't have any pride in their work and don't care how it's presented. And if they don't, why should I?

As for historical things...I actually don't mind when an author alters or deletes a certain historical event to suit the story (it is fiction after all!), as long as the alteration is recognized and explained. I recently pointed out to a writer that she had the Beatles writing a song after it had already been released. It's a really minor thing, but when I see things like that in a story, they "pull me out" of the story because I'll stop and think, "Hey, that's wrong!" But maybe that's just me being obsessive. [img]graemlins/wink3.gif[/img] When I do mention those things, I try to offer suggestions to the writer on how they can be either fixed or explained.

When I write a review, I try to focus on the writer's technique and the flow of story, as opposed to the overall plot. In my opinion, ANY idea, no matter how strange, can be made into a great story if it's written well. Whether you want to write a slash, or put the Beatles in an unusual situation, or have Ringo become the first Beatle to land on the moon, or have John reincarnated as a goldfish...whatever type of thing you enjoy writing, DO IT! You might not have a wide audience if your story is very extreme or controversial, but if it's a story you truly enjoy writing and are proud of, that will come through in your work. And any idea, no matter how tired or overdone it is, can be made fresh if the writer takes the time to develop it and make it their own.

And above all, remember you can't please everyone! I know of several writers who have been very discouraged because of just one or two bad reviews. But the problem wasn't really with the story itself - it was that the reviewer wasn't a fan of that type of story to begin with. (That was one good thing about sites like fanfiction.net - it was easiers for writers to reach the audience for their specific genre.) That's why, when I do review something I normally don't read (like slash), I make a point of saying that, and that my review might be biased because I'm not the best audience for the story. Everyone has their own preferences in regards to plot, and just because a story isn't one person's cup of tea doesn't mean that it's not good. So don't get discouraged! [img]graemlins/smile1.gif[/img]

Woah, that was long...sorry! This just happens to be something I feel strongly about. [img]graemlins/blush1.gif[/img]
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Old Apr 17, 2003, 11:09 PM   #9
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Default Re: Literary Criticism

Well said EasternBird!
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Old Apr 18, 2003, 01:10 AM   #10
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Default Re: Literary Criticism

You rock E.B.! That was so well said. Yes, you're totally right - the opporative word in fan-fiction is FICTION. We can't become too critical of stories with off-the-wall plots, because it is, after all, fiction. Nor can classify storylines that are "over-done" as inferior, because every writer is unique, and their stories, if well-written, will turn out interesting in the end anyway. I just think that we shouldn't criticize writers, especially if they're new or young. Even if their stories are horrible by our standards, I think that telling them this is going to discourage them from writing, and that would be really sad. There's a really fine line between criticism and CONSTRUCTIVE criticism.
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Old Apr 18, 2003, 04:11 AM   #11
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Default Re: Literary Criticism

Quote:
Originally Posted By Sexy_Sadie:
I just think that we shouldn't criticize writers, especially if they're new or young.
<font size="2" face="Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif">I don't know if I'd go that far.....I mean, with no criticism at all, they won't know how to improve. I think I agree with all the posters who say you have to deliver it gently though. And wording IS important. There's a big difference between being told "You might want to consider not naming your heroine Brittany because that wasn't a popular name in 1964." and "NO young girls were named Brittany in 1964 and that makes your story utterly implausable and unreadable!" Ok, that was a bit extreme, but you know what I mean. Maybe. Well, you would if I were a better writer. [img]images/icons/wink.gif[/img]

[size="1"][ Apr 18, 2003, 05:12 AM: Message Edited By: Rellevart ][/size]
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Old Apr 18, 2003, 04:17 AM   #12
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Default Re: Literary Criticism

Quote:
Originally Posted By EasternBird:
That's why, when I do review something I normally don't read (like slash), I make a point of saying that, and that my review might be biased because I'm not the best audience for the story. Everyone has their own preferences in regards to plot, and just because a story isn't one person's cup of tea doesn't mean that it's not good.
<font size="2" face="Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif">This is a really good point. Every author, every critic, every editor has things that they love and things that just drive them insane, but the things that I might hate, someone else wouldn't have a problem with and vice versa. It's like going to the doctor....sometimes you have to seek a second opinion.

Also, I think you have to separate yourself from your work a little bit (I know, easier said than done!) - because someone gives you a harsh review, that doesn't mean that you're a bad person or a bad writer.....it just means that that one piece of your work didn't measure up to one other person's standards. I don't do very well with criticism, but I've learned that I can take it better if I think "They're critiquing my WORK, not ME as a person."
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Old Apr 18, 2003, 04:33 AM   #13
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Default Re: Literary Criticism

I spent a few days trying to think about how to answer this topic. I agree with what EB and Sexy_Sadie have said...when I give critique, I try to be as specific as possible and not unkind. I just sent a critique letter to someone the other day -- I had received a submission that was grammatically pretty good, but otherwise needed a lot of work, IMO. What I try to do is point out what is good about a story first -- most stories have something good about them, however small. Then you can move on to the specific comments and critique. The story in question was not usable as is, but it was somewhat salvageable, and I said so in my letter to the author. I can only hope that she understands what I was trying to do when I gave my comments -- but sometimes it is hard for people to read critique of their work objectively, which is understandable.

Because I run Rooftop Sessions, I read a LOT of fanfic. You name it, I've seen it -- stories that run the gamut from so good they doesn't need any editing at all to so incoherent I can't figure out what the person is trying to say! However, I can say that sloppy and careless manuscripts turn me off big time -- if you're going to take the time to submit something to me, the least you can do is proofread it, spell check it, grammar check it, and do everything within your power to make sure it's as good as you can get it before you hit that "send" button. I don't expect perfect -- after all, if every manuscript I got was perfect, there wouldn't be a need for me to be an editor, would there? But I do expect something coherent with a proper cover letter!

One other thing I often suggest to beginning writers is to read, and read widely. Don't just read works in your favored genre -- read things you might not otherwise favor. Get an idea of what works and does not work for you. And take the time to learn grammar and spelling and usage -- and if you have questions, check a stylebook for the proper way to do something.

I agree with EB regarding "bending" Beatles history as long as it is explained in a believable manner. (For instance, in one story in RS, someone just wrote Cynthia out...which may seem like a glaring omission, but which wasn't in context, because she explained it in a plausible and believable manner -- the Beatles were getting famous and John left Cyn behind in Liverpool. It's plausible because that's probably what would have happened had Cyn not become pregnant. So even though it SEEMS major, it's not because it is explained plausibly.) This is fiction, after all, and as such you have a fair amount of leeway.

You can manipulate dates and happenings, within reason, as long as you remain true to the general flavor of the era and maintain your credibility. It's not just Beatles history, either -- I can't tell you how many manuscripts I've received where the character pops in a tape to record Ed Sullivan or gets a cell phone call, and the story is set in 1964!! For me, historical research is key -- I'm a stickler for details as they relate to generalities, though. Don't give me things that are complete and utter anachronisms (and glaringly so), but as long as you're true to the times in a general sense, that's fine. I don't think the average reader is necessarily going to go out and haul up books to check every single date and fact when they are reading a fanfic, but since Beatles history in the context of larger history is so well-known, it pays to concentrate on the details for believability purposes. However, in order for a fanfic to work, it has to be logical and plausible -- particularly if you are sticking a fictional character into what is a pretty well-documented time.

When you write science fiction or fantasy or some other genre, the key is to keep things believable in that genre. Make sure you have a grasp of the way your magical or scientific world is going to work so that it doesn't sound ridiculous! Then go right ahead and stick your Beatles into the thick of things -- if you can make it work, by all means, GO FOR IT!

Anyway...I've rambled on a lot here, so I'll wrap it up. I think that when you are offering critique or writing a review, the most important thing is to find the things you can be encouraging about before you start discussing the things that need work. Criticism isn't easy to hear, but if you are truly interested in becoming the best writer you can be, it is a necessary part of the growth process.
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Old Apr 18, 2003, 04:38 AM   #14
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Default Re: Literary Criticism

Quote:
Originally Posted By Rellevart:
</font><blockquote><font size="1" face="Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif">Quote:</font><hr /><font size="2" face="Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif">Originally Posted By Sexy_Sadie:
I just think that we shouldn't criticize writers, especially if they're new or young.
<font size="2" face="Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif">I don't know if I'd go that far.....I mean, with no criticism at all, they won't know how to improve. I think I agree with all the posters who say you have to deliver it gently though. And wording IS important. There's a big difference between being told "You might want to consider not naming your heroine Brittany because that wasn't a popular name in 1964." and "NO young girls were named Brittany in 1964 and that makes your story utterly implausable and unreadable!" Ok, that was a bit extreme, but you know what I mean. Maybe. Well, you would if I were a better writer. [img]images/icons/wink.gif[/img] </font><hr /></blockquote><font size="2" face="Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif">I agree totally, Rell -- young and new writers need critique as much, if not more, than the next person...I know that if I hadn't had some pretty harsh critique in the past, I wouldn't be writing now at all! However, the way you say it is important.

I had a writing professor in college who was pretty nasty -- he hated my writing style, and went so far as to say, in front of the class, that my writing was terrible and that I'd "never be a writer" without offering ANYTHING constructive to help me improve. Well! That stung -- and was the WRONG way to critique my work, IMO. I got stubborn and stopped handing in assignments -- I figured if he was going to rip everything I did to shreds anyway, why bother? And it was a long, long time before I decided that this guy didn't know anything, and that I WAS a pretty decent writer. THe problem was that this guy was really, really harsh -- in front of others. NOT the way to do a proper criticism, IMO.

Still, if you do it constructively (which this professor did NOT), critique can be very valuable -- and all new writers need to learn how to take the bad with the good.
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Old Apr 18, 2003, 04:47 AM   #15
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Default Re: Literary Criticism

Quote:
Originally Posted By HMVNipper:
And it was a long, long time before I decided that this guy didn't know anything, and that I WAS a pretty decent writer.
<font size="2" face="Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif">I know what you're saying. I had a teacher in high school English who hated my writing style. No matter how hard I worked on a paper or how many brilliant insights I had (hahahahaha), I could NEVER get more than a B out of her. It convinced me that my talents lay more in math.

Imagine her surprise when I was the only student in my school for 6 years to score a 5 (highest score) on the advanced placement English exam! MUAHAHAHAHA. [img]graemlins/devil2.gif[/img]
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Old Apr 18, 2003, 07:30 AM   #16
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Default Re: Literary Criticism

I think when someone wants to critique fan fic, they should start with the good points of the story first and then move to the parts that need improvement. All throughout high school and college, I was taught that by my English teachers and creative writing teachers. I did have one teacher, I felt was a little harsh when she said my 1970s story (with John)..and this was her own words, "I don't see much a of story here." For those of you who have seen my story, can decide what they want to think about that comment. But before that, she did say she liked my descriptions and dialogue. I read all my classmates comments and some were helpful and took advantage of them, others were just plain ignorant when it came to the subject of John Lennon or my blindness. But, yes, there needs to be some criticism, how else would a writer improve if there wasn't?
-Kristi
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Old Apr 18, 2003, 07:59 AM   #17
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Default Re: Literary Criticism

I think critiscm and editing is neccesary and I appreciate it when I get it, being a writer myself. What I don't like, however, is having someone tell you the story itself has a bad plot and is just not worth writing.

Those times do have to happen though, eventually, even for the best of writers.
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Old Apr 18, 2003, 08:18 AM   #18
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Default Re: Literary Criticism

ALL writers need to know how to take criticism, because let's face it, if finding out that everyone who reads your work doesn't think it's so great is going to send you away crying, you should get out of the writing game. Not everyone is going to be sweet and kind when it comes to pointing out the flaws in your stories...there really are some brutal editors out there (and readers, too!). Believe me, I could paper a wall with the rejection slips I have collected over the years, and I don't mind criticism at all--it tells me where I need to improve, and there is always room for improvement.
I always try to research things carefully; I am currently working on a storyline that includes a child with leukemia, and I have read more about bone marrow transplant technology and first person transplant patient experiences circa 1978 than I ever thought I would need to know. Yet check this out: I sent Susan a story about John's heroin addiction last week, and it contained a GLARING error--I had Brian Jones, who as Susan reminded me, had died in 1969-- offer John his first snort of the drug. She asked if there was a reason I had him alive and well in the 1970s when he died in 1969...I just replied that it was because I had a stupid moment and had relied on my dumb brain instead of getting off my ass and doing some fact checking. Then the other day I had an adopted child state that in school she had been taught that two brown eyed people cannot have a blue eyed child. This is something I had heard and just believed. I was wrong, and I had to adjust the story a bit to fix it. The point is, I don't mind being shown my mistakes when I make them. I appreciate the help my editor gives me to improve my work and make it more historically and factually accurate (thanks, Susan).
Criticism, writers, is NOT a weapon your editor uses against you. It is a tool she (or he) employs to help you make your work the best it can be.
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Old Apr 18, 2003, 09:34 AM   #19
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Default Re: Literary Criticism

One of the many things I love about Rooftop Sessions is that it has provided me with a voice and a forum to explore Beatle fan fic.

Critiquing and criticizing are not the same thing. Critiquing is a form of analysis where in the one doing the critiquing is offering helpful pointers to make the work more effective.

One is always taking a chance on rejection whenever they submit any type of work to any publication, but still it is a learning experience. The really good thing and the service Susan has provided is that she is very good about critiquing submissions. Critiques are a type of review; they are an analytical review.

And yeah, Angel, you said it best. Criticism is NOT a weapon editors use against contributors -- it is a teaching tool calculated to help people keep improving their craft.
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Old Apr 18, 2003, 09:49 AM   #20
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Default Re: Literary Criticism

Quote:
Originally Posted By angelgodiva:

Criticism, writers, is NOT a weapon your editor uses against you. It is a tool she (or he) employs to help you make your work the best it can be.
<font size="2" face="Tahoma, Arial, sans-serif">Exactly. Editors and other people who do critiquing of works do NOT wake up one morning and say, "Hey, I think I'll be Evil Editor Woman/Man today! I think this 14 year old who sent me a fan fic deserves to be ridiculed!" Editors are in it to HELP the writer, not to bring them down. I've dished out writing criticism and I've also received criticism, so I can see both sides of this discussion.
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